By Dr Terry Lacey*
The West Aceh Regent Ramli M.S, based in Meulaboh, has issued a regulation that women found wearing tight trousers such as jeans will have them cut by sharia police and forced to wear loose-fitting attire as of January 1st 2010. (The Jakarta Post 28.10.09). He will also attempt to enforce that vendors cannot sell jeans or slacks.
Ladies can, of course, can still wear jeans and slacks in other regencies or provinces, which could necessitate a ring of religious police road-blocks around the regency, with changing rooms at twenty-four hour border gates.
It is not clear if these restrictions apply to persons of uncertain gender who traditionally play a significant role in Aceh social life, since they are really men who look like ladies. This is a difficult theological point and there may be no underlying grounds for restricting the tightness of their jeans, even if they look quite immoral, or at least very happy about it.
But since their customers are usually men, this should not involve any women, so no female immorality is involved, although the religious police may sometimes have to look into it.
The Regent has also issued a regulation prohibiting government agencies from serving members of the public wearing “un-Islamic” clothing such as tight jeans and slacks when visiting government offices.
This could be unconstitutional since it is unlikely that any official has the right to withdraw Indonesian central government services from its citizens on such grounds. However, Ramli M.S is a practical man and has reportedly set up a contract to produce 7,000 long skirts, which he will provide free to those stripped of their trousers.
Could it be that a degree of male resentment has emerged in a country where increasingly the women wear the trousers?
And who is to make sure the religious police will carry out their duties professionally as regards the tight jeans? First of all with changing fashions, Indonesian ladies, even in Meulaboh, are very fashion-conscious and like to follow international trends.
So senior religious police should be sent to Paris to see the catwalks, whilst of course refraining from any sinful thoughts or deeds, in order to see how tight is tight these days. After all it is the modern and appropriate contextualization of what is in the Holy Koran, and an educated understanding of hadiths (religious sayings) that should lead to an appropriate interpretation of what is needed, since Islam only requires modesty.
Modern, liberal Islamic scholars would understand this to mean comparatively modest compared to prevailing fashions.
So if the prevailing fashion in Jakarta and Medan shopping malls would be bare midriffs, and a glimpse of a thong leading to goodness-knows-where, then jeans and a t-shirt will look more modest, and are of course routinely worn in most of Indonesia, or the Gulf States, or Jordan, or Lebanon or Egypt, or come to think of it, in most Muslim countries.
Then Aceh religious police, should perhaps run a comparative study on Muslim dress and modernity, covering, or we could say uncovering, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon and Syria plus a drop into Sharm El Sheik in Egypt and then that stretch of holiday resorts from Alexandria to El Alamein to see how the Egyptians and their guests from the Gulf take to the beaches.
This could be rounded off by a comparative study of tightness in casual clothing and beach-wear in the Arab Middle East heartland of the Gulf States, where mass tourism is growing, culminating in a tour of (sometimes topless) beaches in southern Turkey and a side-visit to tourist areas in the Maldives and Malaysia.
If there were time to study further afield then Muslim dress habits in the Balkans and in the Central Asian Republics would also reflect longstanding and somewhat laid-back non-Arab Muslim cultural traditions with a rather liberal view of social life and attire.
This should give the West Aceh religious police a better feel for the subject, despite the tight schedule. Or, someone could put a stop to all this nonsense and show Regent Ramli who is wearing the trousers. Otherwise ladies could risk losing their trousers all over Indonesia .
* Dr Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta , Indonesia , on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking.
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